Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Obesity in adults is defined by a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 30 kg/m2; BMI is calculated by dividing the subject’s weight, expressed in kilograms, by the square of the height, expressed in metres. Previously, it was unacceptable for advertisers to refer to obesity in marketing unless their services were supervised by a suitably qualified healthcare professional (Rule 13.2). Following a rule change in November 2015 there is now an exception to rule 13.2 which means it is now possible for services meeting specific criteria laid out in rule 13.2.1 to refer to obesity and therefore target the obese.
The change to rule 13.2 is a result of the public consultation undertaken by CAP following the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updating their public health guidance document, ‘Managing overweight and obesity in adults – lifestyle weight management services’ (PH53) in 2014.
Please note food and food supplements are not covered by rule 13.2.1 (please see "Food: Reduction of disease risk claims").
Requirements to be met:
- Ensure your weight loss programme is shown to be effective at 12 months or beyond
- Ensure programmes last at least three months
- Don’t focus on dietary intake alone
- Ensure programmes are developed by a multi-disciplinary team and
- Ensure those delivering the programme are suitably trained
Other points to remember:
In 2014 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated their public health guidance document, ‘Managing overweight and obesity in adults – lifestyle weight management services’ (PH53) which recognised that certain lifestyle weight management programmes could play a substantial role, as part of a broader strategic approach, in managing obesity in the population and that medical supervision for such services is not required.
In light of the amended NICE guidelines, CAP and BCAP announced, in September 2015, that following a public consultation, rules in both the CAP and BCAP Codes would be amended to allow advertisers of lifestyle weight loss programmes which meet specific criteria, to refer to obesity in their advertising and therefore target people who are obese. While previously, advertisers have been prohibited from targeting obese people, because their programmes did not meet the Codes’ requirement that services are supervised by a suitably qualified healthcare professional, given the recognition that lifestyle weight loss programmes now enjoy as a safe and effective means of losing weight, combined with the seriousness and prevalence of obesity in the UK, some advertisers may now target people who are obese. For more information on the consultation please see the Regulatory statement.
"Lifestyle weight management programmes which meet the following standards may make responsible references to obesity in their marketing communications. These programmes must:
- be shown to be effective at 12 months or beyond
- last at least three months
- be multi-component; addressing dietary intake, physical activity levels and behaviour change
- be developed by a multi-disciplinary team; including input from a registered dietitian, registered practitioner psychologist and a qualified physical activity instructor, and
- be provided by staff who are trained to deliver the programme in question.
Marketers should have regard to the guidance on ‘Managing overweight in obesity in adults – lifestyle weight management services’ published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)."
It is important to note the list in rule 13.2.1 is cumulative, this means all five criteria must be met.
Marketers should ensure their programme is efficacious at 12 months or beyond, because this requires it to deliver weight loss in the longer term. It is therefore more likely to have a greater impact on the individual over time and improve their health outcomes.
We understand that when NICE conducted their review of the evidence which underpins their guidance, none of the effective programmes in the evidence base lasted less than three months. Requiring this as a minimum duration accurately reflects the evidence base and prohibits programmes of a shorter duration than three months from targeting obese people. We do acknowledge, however, that some individuals may join and leave the same programmes several times and programmes provided on an on-going basis are likely to be considered acceptable.
Programmes must be multi-component; addressing physical activity levels and behaviour change as well as dietary intake. We understand that programmes delivering each of these components have a greater chance of resulting in longer-term weight loss and lifestyle change, than those which consist of fewer components.
Programmes must be developed by a multi-disciplinary team; including input from a registered dietitian, registered practitioner psychologist and a qualified physical activity instructor. This requirement is intended to ensure that the required components referred to in rule 3.1.1 are developed by those who are suitably qualified to construct them.
While we understand that there is no widely-recognised qualification for staff who deliver lifestyle weight loss programmes, the Code requires staff to be trained to deliver the particular programme in question and advertisers will need to be able to demonstrate that this is the case.
CAP accepts that for people who are overweight, but not obese, a rate of weight loss greater than 2lbs a week is unlikely to be compatible with good medical and nutritional practice. It is possible, however, that a weight loss rate of more than 2lbs a week could be considered acceptable for those who are obese if the rate is demonstrably compatible with sound nutritional advice and the requirements of rule 13.2.1, although to date, CAP has not seen evidence to support a claim of a greater rate of weight loss for obese people.
We recognise that obesity is a difficult and sensitive issue for many people and advertisers should exercise caution to ensure that their depictions of, and references to, people who are obese are responsible and not likely to cause offence.
Marketers are encouraged to seek Copy Advice before advertising treatments for serious or prolonged medical conditions, including obesity.
See Weight control: General, Weight Control: Testimonials, Weight control: pills medicines and patches, Weight control: Food and Food Supplements, Therapies: Nutritional Therapy and other “Weight control” entries